Joe Cortright is President and principal economist for Impresa, a Portland consulting firm specializing in regional economic analysis, innovation and industry clusters. Joe is also a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and senior policy advisor for CEOs for Cities, a national organization of urban leaders.
An Economist with impeccable credentials that when he releases a study, we are assured it is well researched, deeply considered and very relevant to the subject at hand. As an old commercial said, he is one that when he speaks, people listen. Or at least, they should.
Mr. Cortright has deeply researched and released studies critical of the Columbia River Crossing light rail project and has grabbed our attention for his efforts. And as we now know, the once thought dead project is being brought back up with allegedly new considerations, but realistically, just the same old, same old we have rejected.
Oregon claims they will assume all expense and build their light rail into our community whether we agree or not and of late, apparently with the support of both our lame Governor and his Attorneys General Office.
This renewed effort has Mr. Cortright researching the “new” claims, releasing his findings in a new study just today. Of tantamount importance in his work is that this renewed light rail extension effort will result in diverting some 50,000 vehicles per day to the I-205 corridor and creating the very gridlock there that is seen daily in the I-5 corridor.
In releasing the study, Mr. Cortright says, “In 2022, when the new I-5 bridge opens, only 80,000 vehicles are expected to cross daily–one-third less than use the existing I-5 bridge today. Meanwhile, 210,000 vehicles–two and a half times as many–will be jamming a toll-free I-205 crossing.”
Chris Girard, CEO of Plaid Pantries, Inc. and also a long-time critic of the CRC’s finances added, “There was huge risk and uncertainty with the finance plan all along. Now there is an even bigger hole in the toll revenue stream, with no information on how the original tolling numbers presented in the environmental impact statement can possibly be achieved. Even more worrisome, Oregon taxpayers will now be on the hook for 100% of this financial debacle.”
Cortright also says, “Overloading I-205 is also likely to increase congestion and raise travel times on connecting routes like I-84 and SR-14, and will impair access to Portland International Airport–perhaps the region’s most time-sensitive destination.”
Where is recommended that we arrive at the airport some 2-hours prior to departure time now, due to TSA regulations and inspections, such jamming up of traffic crossing the Glenn Jackson Bridge could have us leaving our homes hours earlier than we must now to arrive at the airport on time.
Adding is thoughts to the release, Ron Buel, Chair of the Smarter Bridge Committee said, “The risk here is that we do not get the toll revenues projected, and the State of Oregon taxpayers have to make up the difference by paying back the bond buyers and paying for the debt service on $2.75 billion of debt. When you add this to the risk of cost over-runs, all of which would be on Oregon’s back, the Oregon Only plan turns out to be much more risky than we are being told by CRC proponents. Statements about ‘negligible’ diverted traffic caused by tolls, made by the CRC in February and March of this year, during the legislative session, were knowingly false. Where, in the recent toll projections made by Parsons Brinckerhoff and CDM Smith for Ted Wheeler, were these numbers – they aren’t there! When you add to this the continued statements by CRC proponents that congestion on the existing I-5 bridge will grow to 12 to 16 hours a day by 2030, and the projections of traffic growth across the bridge will grow dramatically in future years, compared to the facts — that actual traffic across the bridge has been down since 2004, according to Oregon DMV figures, the false representations begin to pile up, and so does the risk.”
Cortright highlights from the report;
Starting in 2016, the CRC will toll the existing I-5 bridges; but the parallel I-205 bridges will continue to be free. Tolls will create a strong incentive for drivers to divert to I-205. Until now, CRC has claimed that diversion will be minimal; but a new study prepared by a CRC consultant CDM Smith confirms that tens of thousands of cars will shift to I-205, ultimately loading it to full capacity. Traffic jams on I-205 will increase travel times on I-205, and on connecting routes like SR-14 and I-84; economically important trips to Portland Airport will likely take much longer as a result.
In 2016, CRC will toll the existing I-5 bridges at $2.50 per peak hour vehicle, plus a $1.50 surcharge for those who don’t buy transponders.
Traffic on the I-205 bridge will rise from 140,000 vehicles per day today, to more than 188,000 vehicles in 2016.
Meanwhile, tolls will cause a huge drop in traffic on I-5. In 2016, traffic will drop to just 78,400 vehicles from 124,000 vehicles today.
In 2022, when the new bridge opens, tolls will be raised to $3.62 (peak hour) plus a $1.77 surcharge for those without transponders. Traffic diversion will worsen: Traffic on the new I-5 bridges will fall to just 78,200 vehicles per day–about the same level as 1972. After spending more than $3 billion, the new mega-bridge will serve fewer than two-thirds as many motorists as use it today.
Shortly after the new bridge opens in 2022, diverted traffic will jam I-205 to its capacity of about 210,000 vehicles per day (50% more than it carries now). The forecast effectively counts on I-205 traffic jams to force drivers to use the tolled I-5 bridge.
These data are from a set of traffic projections prepared by CRC consultant CDM Smith, and obtained via a public records request. Figures shown here correspond to the consultant’s baseline “Scenario 2” forecast. Its Scenario 1 forecast shows even lower traffic on I-5.
These estimates show that the traffic forecasts contained in the CRC are—as critics have claimed—drastically overstated. CDM Smith forecasts that I-5 traffic on the new bridge will be less than 100,000 vehicles per day in 2030—barely half the 178,000 forecast in the project’s EIS.
We have evidence of such diversion of traffic when much traffic chose to go “the long way around” in an area that supported tolling.
As we know for our community, results of a poll from last year’s shows our citizens strongly oppose tolls.
A prime set-up for financial disaster, not only in my estimation, but from a highly credentialed Economist like Joe Cortright.
No doubt the rah, rah glee club at the Lazy C will either ignore or poo poo this latest report, trying to mislead still that none of it matters.
But it does. We are receiving ample warnings of pending disaster of our future. Not the brick and mortar collapse, but economic calamity awaits us, all so Portland can access revenue from our community to help bail them out of their deep financial problems with their light rail system, some $1.6 Billion in unfunded liabilities at this time.
We can stop this madness by electing people willing to stand for us and oppose these special interests that see us as their personal ATM’s.
We must send Mayor Leavitt packing this year, along with his sidekick Jack Burkman, both in lock-step with Identity Clark County and other light rail special interests.
We must retain Jeanne E. Stewart who has been a voice of sanity for her 12 years on the city council.
Bill Turlay for Mayor and Frank Decker and Micheline Doan will swing the city council majority towards reality on this ongoing nightmare of the CRC.
And next year, we must replace others who have blindly led us down this wrong path. Jim Moeller and Sharon Wylie in the 49th along with Monica Stonier in the 17th.
Whoever they are, whatever party they belong to, we must replace these special interest supporting officials with citizens based in reality.
Joe Cortright is sounding the clarion again and warning us.
Are you listening?